Shtum Jem Lester (out 7th April)
Jem Lester’s heartbreaking story is tart and amusing, and totally insightful.
It’s the story of a father struggling to do the best for his severely autistic son. By sharing the tale of the Jewell men, two of whom haven’t a voice and two who struggle to communicate, Jem Lester raises the all too familiar story of male (non) communication.
The book had me thinking about the nature of communication. After all the best communicator is the boy who can’t speak. Yet, it’s clear what he wants and when. Uniquely Jonah is a listener, his ability amplifies the inability of others to communicate. Nothing displayed this more than Ben’s shock at Emma’s revelation. Completely self absorbed by his own issues he misses what should have been obvious clues leaving the marriage in tatters.
Yet, it’s not all bad. Johnny and Ben, and Georg and Maurice are clear examples of male communication working. Indeed, Georg and Maurice didn’t even speak the same language when they met. And of course, not forgetting Valentine and his to the point expression. They are a real mirror to Ben and Georg’s difficulties.
If this is all you take from the book (!), it will no doubt stay with you for some time. Yet, what makes this an extraordinary read is the subtle weaving in of so many issues – abandonement, depression, dependency, inherited DNA, enablement, fertility, despair, death and loss. Not to mention the Holocaust and the value of a child’s life in our society. Yeah, you see why I’ll still be thinking about this in December?
This is dark and difficult stuff, the descriptions of caring for Jonah will have many in tears. But it’s not a difficult read. In fact, it’s a gentle read. Ben’s love for his son is beautifully tender.
I’m not sure if I loved it, but both Emma and Ben’s descriptions of their lives with Jonah touched my soul.
Thank you to TBConFB for an ARC of this book. I especially want to thank Tracy Fenton for championing this book.